TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners buried in residents' complaints about unplowed sidewalks took little warmth from efforts to increase enforcement of snow removal requirements for property owners.
Commissioners instead directed staff to make sidewalk plowing a higher priority, a request that could slow or reduce the plowing of some city streets and alleys. Commissioners Jeanine Easterday and Tim Werner both advocated for less street plowing during tonight's city commission meeting if it would allow city staff to devote more time to sidewalks.
"Let the city streets go a little bit and see how long that takes for people to start complaining," Easterday said.
Sidewalk complaints started to pile up after five days of snow prior to Thanksgiving with little sidewalk clearing. City Manager Jered Ottenwess said the city was short-staffed due to some plow operators being on leave and that almost eliminated their ability to do sidewalks.
Ottenwess said in response to the complaints he directed the city's code enforcement officer to be more proactive in enforcing the city ordinance that requires homeowners to remove snow from public sidewalks adjacent to their homes. The officer will focus on issuing warnings in high traffic areas but no tickets.
But commissioners want the city staff to make more of an effort than what has been provided this winter.
"We will make an effort to prioritize sidewalks but it may come at a cost of not providing other services," Ottenwess said.
The city has nine people on its day shift who run nine routes to clear all city streets and alleys. When those operators finish their routes, if it's not still snowing, they start work on sidewalks. Ottenwess said when the city had 18 operators in 2006 they began sidewalk work and street plowing simultaneously. The streets department now has 13 people.